Facebook: a coup against fake news
Post truths, otherwise known as lies, do not exclusively belong to the era of Trump and rampant populism. They existed long before the birth of Facebook and Google, or even the internet. If we think that the US electoral campaign was toxic with the spread of half-truths, we only have to look back at the news archives from the fall of 2000 to see that pretty much the same thing was happening back then.
Very respectable US media outlets found themselves forced to echo shameful anecdotes that cast doubt on the reputation of the Democratic candidate, Al Gore: that he had claimed he was the inventor of the internet or that he and his wife Tipper had inspired the novel and film Love Story – exaggerations and lies.
Today, the mass media has more readers than ever. It is true that there are fewer physical newspapers printed and sold. But our news stories no longer have boundaries. We reach millions of people anywhere in the world at any hour of the day. This is the gift of technology that brings with it a completely different model of publicity. We at news corporations such as EL PAÍS, the New York Times and The Guardian are not only competing among ourselves for publicity, but also with big internet companies who make their profits from advertising. It is a new and unpredictable scenario that makes established news corporations with a commitment to the right to information and online giants such as Facebook and Google mutually dependent.
The price of reaching millions of readers daily is the lack of control we have over the distribution of our content. We are responsible for what we write, but not always for how it reaches the reader, which could be via Twitter, email, Facebook or Instagram. But now we are watching on with concern as distribution channels that have the appearance of newspapers publish what is not news at all – articles that lack sources and facts and proper checks and which abuse the trust that exists between newspapers and their readers to cheat the latter. This is how lies such as “the Pope publicly supports Trump” or “an FBI agent turned up dead in Hillary Clinton’s house” are spread.
The success of professionals using populist rhetoric and lies to work the algorithms of Facebook, Google and other internet services has prompted the Oxford English Dictionary to choose the term “post-truth” as its Word of the Year for 2016.
Fake news, and the rejection of it, has become central to political debate in a particularly turbulent era on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, at last, a social network as large as Facebook, with 1.8 billion users around the world, has taken measures to distinguish between the truth and post-truths by highlighting real news and drawing attention to quality news sites such as EL PAÍS.
The fact that Facebook now allows newspapers like EL PAÍS to select five pieces of news a day in a number of ways – through posting on its wall and via notifications – is proof that this enormous internet platform is taking very necessary and welcome measures to stamp out fake and noxious content. By doing so, Facebook is recognizing and rewarding quality journalism – the kind that invests in preserving society’s right to information that is free of the kind of manipulation that drags democracy down.